Flamenco in Paris during the 1930’s: Salim Halali and the Arabic-Andalucian sound

Salim Hilali

Salim Hilali

During the late thirties, musically, there was an eclectic sensibility in Paris. Jazz had reached French shores and as the sun began to set on the French Empire, the Parisian cognoscenti yearned for its glory days. The inhabitants of the colonies had begun to emigrate to the ‘mother nation’ and slowly but surely their culture and influence made its way into the French sensibility. Caribbean, Arabic and Flamenco clubs began to appear around Paris alongside the early jazz clubs and folies.

The ‘Chanson Marocaine’ was a Moorish-influenced mix of rumbas, tangos and tziganes. These were Spanish and North African sounds which must have spoken to the desire for the exotic amongst Parisians of the time. Artists such as Mohamed el Kamel and Salim (Simon) Halali were able to perform regularly and carve themselves a career in the Parisian music halls.

Salim Hilali - Chanson Marocaine

Salim Hilali - Chanson Marocaine

Songs like Halali’s ‘Monira’ and ‘Andaloussia (I love a girl from Andalucia)’ served to reclaim these Moorish traditions away from the Spanish flamenco sound into something new, a hybrid of a hybrid, but firmly rooted in the Mahgreb, An Arabic-Andalucian sound which had returned  to its origins in North African musical traditions. Revered as a national hero in Algeria, Halali was singing his way into a new idiom for Arabic music and helped to create the modern Arabic sound. To this day young Algerian artists look to his work.

These songs sound like gypsy flamencos sung in Arabic and mixed with the fierce percussion of the Berbers. It’s like an imagined soundtrack for Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Under the Sheltering Sky” or for Michael Curtiz’ “Casablanca”. They are charming songs of love told in an innocent fashion. You can see why the music appealed to the sophisticates of Paris as well as to the burgeoning Arabic communities in that city and to the French expat community returning as the colonies were lost one by one.

Si Kaddour Benghabrit

Si Kaddour Benghabrit

Salim Halali was part Algerian Berber, part Jewish. When the second world war arrived, he narrowly escaped having his life shortened dramatically by the Nazis. Si Kaddour Benghabrit, founder and first rector of the Paris Mosque provided false documentation to Salim (and to many others) that he was a Muslim so that the Nazis would not take him off as a Jew. Additionally, he arranged for Salim’s father’s name to be burned onto a plaque and placed upon the site of a hitherto unmarked grave in a Muslim cemetery in Bobigny.

Salim Halali - Monira

Salim Halali - Monira

In 1947, Salim Halali created an Oriental cabaret in Paris called “Folies Ismailia” (perhaps named after the European district in Cairo), in a mansion house on the prestigious Avenue Montaigne. A year later he followed up this success with a second club called the Seraglio, again in Paris.

By the early 1950’s, Salim Halali had moved to Morocco, where he was able to buy a coffee shop in the  Medina, the old Jewish quarter of Casablanca.

Transformed, “Le Coq D’Or” soon became a famous cabaret venue visited by local dignitaries. Eventually this nightclub was burned to the ground and Salim returned to France where he continued to tour, entertain and make music until his death in June 2005.

Finally Here’s a few clips of Salim’s tunes compiled on a french video talking about Salim – Sorry in advance for the advert at the beginning:

Anthologie de la musique judeo andalouse

Posted in Music Blog, Other Worldly |

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